Warrington Wolves produce a clinical performance in second of semi-final double header to follow surprise package Catalans to the national stadium
Josh Charnley continued his prolific form since returning to rugby league as Warrington brushed Leeds aside to book a Challenge Cup final showdown with Catalans.
The winger’s double made it 14 tries in just 19 appearances since signing from Sale RU in March, including nine in just four matches in this competition.
It proved more than enough to account for a Rhinos side that crossed first through Ryan Hall but then displayed familiar defensive frailties and trailed 26-6 at half-time.
The Wolves scored four unanswered tries in just 18 minutes, with Tom Lineham, Charnley, Kevin Brown and Ben Murdoch-Masila all touching down.
Adam Cuthbertson’s response soon after the restart briefly hinted at an unlikely Rhinos comeback, but those hopes were ended by Charnley’s second before centres Toby King and Bryson Goodwin, and Lineham again, completed the scoring.
Here are five talking points from the game…
1. Price is right for Warrington
Less than a year after his arrival at the club, Australian Steve Price has steered the Wolves to the first final available to him.
On the opening night of the Super League season his team lost 16-12 to Leeds – but the two sides have travelled in markedly different directions since then.
The former St George-Illawarra boss has built his side’s progress around defence, where a “no excuses” attitude to constantly working has made them difficult for any opposition to break down.
But they also have plenty of talent with the ball, and explosive players like Ben Murdoch-Masila and Josh Charnley on the edges.
Now they stand 80 minutes away from a first piece of silverware for their unassuming coach, whose influence behind the scenes is becoming increasingly apparent.
2. Brown’s day of landmarks
It was a special day all round for Warrington stand-off Kevin Brown.
Not only did the former England international make a third Challenge Cup final of his career – having previously been there with Huddersfield and Wigan – he also passed two significant individual landmarks.
On what was his 400th appearance, Brown’s trademark stepping first half try was his 150th.
Having also played in a World Cup final for his country, Brown can be rightly proud of his significant achievements to date – lifting a Challenge Cup in three weeks’ time could well top them all.
3. The decline of the Rhinos
Given the recent struggles of Leeds, it’s difficult sometimes to remember that they remain the defending Super League champions.
And although there have been departures from that team – most notably iconic half-back duo Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow – 11 of the starting 13 that faced Warrington in Bolton played in that winning side at Old Trafford.
Not only that, but 13 of today’s team also featured in the opening night 16-12 win at Warrington this year, which marked the Rhinos down as probable contenders again.
That scenario never unfolded and the club now faces a battle for its top flight life.
4. Even bigger challenges ahead for Leeds
It seems a strange thing to say in the immediate aftermath of a Challenge Cup semi-final defeat, but Leeds Rhinos have bigger things on their agenda now.
The priority for the club has to be preserving their Super League status, and on the evidence of recent weeks, the way they breezed through the Qualifiers in 2016 doesn’t look as likely this time.
A comprehensive defeat to relegation rivals Salford – who played most of the game with 12 men – doesn’t bode well, and ambitious Championship sides like Toronto Wolfpack may sniff blood.
The opening game at home to Toulouse on Saturday now looks massive for Kevin Sinfield and his squad.
5. Familiar foes
We will get an early insight into what could unfold at Wembley this Friday night, when Warrington entertain Catalans.
Or will we?
Steve McNamara showed last week at Wigan that he isn’t opposed to resting players when he sat out seven key figures ahead of their semi-final with St Helens.
The Dragons also have little to play for in the Super 8s, being eight points adrift of a play-off place, and now having the prospect of a first ever trophy on the horizon.
Similar the Wolves have all but booked their top four place with a six point cushion and vastly superior points difference to fifth-placed Huddersfield.
How the two teams approach the match in just five days’ time will be interesting to watch.
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